Wednesday, December 31, 2003

LESSONS FROM 2003 (part 1)

Prices and Middle-East: a cautionary tale for US quest for energy dominance in Africa

As far as African oil politics is concerned, year 2003 is to be remembered as a year of global instability, increased US dependency on foreign crude oil and high prices:

Instability in oil producing nations like Iraq, Venezuela and Nigeria helped boost U.S. crude oil prices to an average of $31 a barrel in 2003, the highest yearly average in more than 20 years, energy experts said on Wednesday. (...) The high cost of petroleum came in a year when the United States relied on a record amount of foreign crude oil for its energy needs, accounting for 62.9 percent of what it consumed, according to the Department of Energy.

On the security agenda, the Middle-East region remains a place to look at for lessons about African oil states’ future, and their integration to the global system. Events that plagued the Middle-East this year also should be considered a cautionary tale for the American empire’s ability (or lack of ability) to maintain its order to parts of the world where its quest for energy dominance is dragging its troops. Three “countries” will help us spot key trends affecting Africa’s future: Afghanistan, Iraq and Israel/Palestine.

The first thing to consider when analysing the situation in these countries is their birth certificate as modern (would-be) nation-states. Based on such a criteria, the group appears quite young (at least compared to the United States): Afghanistan was “engineered” by the British Empire in the 19th century (1838-1842), as a corridor to India – the prize of the great game. Then comes Iraq, also a British creation in its modern form (1915). Finally comes Israel, which was founded after World War 2, in 1948, after the Brits agreed to withdraw from their mandate of Palestine.

The second thing to consider is the identity of the inhabitants of these countries. Deep cultural, religious as well ethnic divisions run high in the region. The final events in Afghanistan are quite easy to grasp if you consider the identity politics behind them:

President Hamid Karzai's insistence on a powerful presidency under Afghanistan's new constitution is driving a dangerous wedge between his Pashtun kinsmen and smaller ethnic groups (...). With marathon talks on the new charter at a stalemate, opponents said the strong Pashtun -- and American -- flavor of Karzai's support risked a backlash among minorities whose militias still control much of the country. "If they don't include our ideas in the constitution, we won't give up our weapons," said Habiba Danish, an ethnic Tajik delegate to the ongoing loya jirga in Kabul. "If they want national unity, we want equal rights."

“National unity”, “equal rights” – democracy: easier said than done, as the situation in Iraq reminds us every day: in Iraq, the ethnic-religious mix - Arabs vs. Non-Arabs (Kurds, Turkmen), Shia vs. Sunni - make matters worse than Afghanistan, where the US troops are still fighting despite the regime change. The situation in Kirkuk, which used to be less violent than the Sunni triangle, is getting out of control:

About 2000 Arab and Turkmen protestors marched on the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two main Kurdish factions, to demonstrate against a push by the city's Kurdish majority to incorporate the oil-rich centre into an autonomous Kurdish province. Protestors surrounded the building, chanting "No to federalism, Kirkuk is Iraqi" when clashes erupted.

As for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I don’t need to elaborate upon the failure of the so-called peace process. Everyday brings audio-visual confirmation that the (not so) low-intensity warfare is going on – whatever you and I can think or hope for. It will likely continue, at least in 2004.

The third and final thing to look at is resource ownership: in Afghanistan, people fight for control over opium and pipeline transit fees. In Irak, it’s obviously oil. And in Israel-Palestine, land is the main issue.

The first lesson of year 2003 is that the problems we spotted in these countries will remain with us in 2004. The meaning of this is quite clear: sending troops or changing the regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq didn’t affect the basic realities of both countries. As for Israel, refusing to send (UN) troops and siding with the Sharon regime didn’t improve the security outlook. There are limits to the power of the only super power.

The oil boom in Africa will bring America closer to the heart of darkness. Will the lessons from the Middle-East region help policy makers devise a new approach to energy security before it’s too late? Time will tell. And we’ll be there to report.

Sunday, December 28, 2003


As you can see, there’s been some change: a list of key pdf documents has been added. You can start reading them since I will go back to them often. I will add more documents, links and other functions before January 1st. Please, come back later today, I’m working on a new post.


Saturday, December 27, 2003


I've been quite busy working on my africanoil database. It's becoming quite impressive, with lots of fields and links. I hope it will help me boost this blog and go beyond the usual discourse around african oil. This becomes an issue by the hour: the reputation of this blog is growing, thanks to people like karibu and blogafrica, edited by Akwe from allafrica.com.

Before I go back to some serious business on this blog, I'd like to say a last word about Libya: please check ElBaradei's opinion about Libya's weapons program (sic): ElBaradei said the extent of Libya's covert activities was not known but the country appeared to be far away from producing nuclear arms. What is known, ElBaradei said, is that the Libyans "tried to develop an enrichment capability," for uranium, apparently as part of a nascent weapons program that was later abandoned.

Let's now go back to oil and gas. Here's an interesting take on business issues involved in the new Ghadafi-Bush-Blair friendship :

From 1995 to 2002, Libya had just one-fourth the number of oil wells drilled in neighboring Egypt, and two-thirds the number of wells in Algeria. Its proven reserves are estimated at a modest 30 billion barrels, compared with 113 billion barrels in Iraq, but analysts say this reflects a dearth of exploration. (...) Without sanctions, Libya might also be able to develop its natural gas reserves and resume its neglected effort to export liquefied natural gas.

Natural gas and LNG was a key topic last month in Houston, at Africa Oil & Gas Forum - organised by the Corporate Council on Africa. George L. Kirkland, president ChevronTexaco overseas petroleum, compared natural gas to Africa's "second prize" - after oil, of course. He spoke about the big market that is opening up to african gas, after years of neglect.

For years, Africa's natural gas has been a resource looking for a market. Today this gas is becoming a bonus. It flows directly from the continent's successful energy development. (...) To quote Daniel Yergin and Michael Stoppard, "A new global energy business, natural gas, is emerging. The United States needs it to keep the lights on; Europe to rejuvenate its industry; and developing countries to boost growth." These quotes are quite dramatic and may overstate the issues. However, all of these regions need natural gas for a cleaner environment. Small wonder then that in some African nations, a resource which, for lack of local markets, was for years burned away is now suddenly in great demand.

You see the picture. But you need data, rigth? Just ask:

Ten years in the making, the Western Libyan Gas Project is among the most ambitious integrated developments under way in the Mediterranean region today. Once onstream, the two-field project will flow some 30 million m3 of gas and 60,000 barrels of oil/condensate daily into Libya and – via a long-distance trunkline dubbed GreenStream – Italy. Beyond its profile as a groundbreaking offshore development, however, the WLPG holds a longer-term significance: providing a main artery for future gas export from North Africa and the western Middle East to Europe. First flow from the Western Libyan Gas Project in 2005 will mark a changing of the guard in the Mediterranean Sea...

The project is so complex and expensive that it took six years from the conception to the current design, and we are still far from production. According to industry analysts at Wood Mackenzie, the likely inflow of post-sanctions investment will probably enable Libya to increase its daily oil output to more than 2 million barrels within a few years. This will create a problem with OPEC since Libya's current production quota is 1.3 million barrels a day. Maybe that's what Ghadafi's new friend is after.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003


Part of my previous post was inspired by Howard LaFranchi's story in the Christian Scienc Monitor. And since, at least in my view, blogging is sharing, I dropped a mail to Michael. I thanked him and asked him to check my take on his story. He was kind enough to answer, which I appreciate alot. He made an interesting comment about the title of my post (LIBYA'S WMD SMOKE SCREEN HIDES NEW OIL INVESTMENT POLICY):

"I think you're right, altho(ugh) I'm not sure the WMD decision is exactly a "smokescreen." It's a means to get to an end."

I thanked him for his comment, and decided to do my homework. I checked the word on dictionary.com. here's the result:

smoke screen or smoke·screen (smk'skrn')
1- A mass of dense artificial smoke used to conceal military areas or operations from an enemy.
2- An action or statement used to conceal actual plans or intentions.

Eh, it looked like exactly like what I meant. To me, the WMD issue is like a camouflage - "a dense artificial smoke used to canceal" - oilpolitics. All the statements made by world leaders are a media fog that conceals "the actual plans or intentions" of the players. The second entry made things crystal clear:

smoke screen

n : (military) cloud of smoke to obscure movements

Yeah, all this restore-hope-to-Libya operation looks cloudy to me. I am very sceptical about this all WMD issue, to say the least. And you know what, I found someone who share my scepticism: Robert Fisk. This is what he wrote today few hours ago:

The problem I have with the whole Gadhafi saga is that the Libya I know can scarcely repair a drain or install a working lavatory in a hotel. Yet this same Libya, after years of sanctions, was apparently making a nuclear bomb. Libyan nuclear scientists. Say those three words over and over again. Really? And what was that odd word in the Downing Street announcement? "Program"? Wasn't that exactly what Prime Minister Tony Blair accused Iraq of developing after the weapons of mass destruction he had told us all about turned out to be non-existent? According to the usual anonymous "U.S. officials"' who daily grace the front pages of American newspapers, Libya had not actually acquired a nuclear bomb but was "close to developing one." But what does that mean? How close is close? A year? Ten years? Some time?

Maybe Bush and Blair are right. We won't know for sure before long. One thing is sure: the sanctions couldn't go on for ever. Someone had to find a means to this (happy) end. Thirty years after the Arab Oil embargo, we see how deeply the international oil regime has changed: the fear of sanctions has been reversed: it's a trend John Mitchell saw very clearly. He lately expressed it once again in his latest book, the New Economy of Oil (with Moji Morita, Norman Selley,Jonathan Stern - RIIA/Earthscan 2001):

Since the end of the Arab oil embargo and production cuts early in 1974, there have been no more political sanctions by oil exporters. The trend is the reverse: no longer is the United States the object of oil sanctions; its Senate, administration or private investors variously lead sanctions against oil-exporting countries and companies which do business in them. The relevant geopolitics have been defined by the Gulf War of 1990-1 as dramatically as they were previously defined by the 1973 oil crisis.

Given Bush' haste to lift the sanctions imposed to Libya, maybe a new trend is in view - a geopolitical trend defined by the war in Iraq: the evenly distribution of the fear of sanctions...

The Roget's Interactive Thesaurus offers another take on smoke screen: the word is linked to the act of hiding or covering.

Synonyms: beard, blind, camouflage, cover, cover-up, covering, curtain, disguise, dissimulation, front, hide-out, hideaway, laundromat, mask, obliteration, obscuration, occultation, privacy, red herring, secrecy, secretion, smoke screen, veil, wraps

Sunday, December 21, 2003


Gadhafi's pledge to end Libya's weapons program brought back the debate about how best to confront WMD-friendly rogue states: "carrot or stick ?", asked the journalists.
- "Carrot" replied the Europeans, feeling vindicated by the results of their non-proliferation diplomacy with Iran and Libya.
- "Stick" replied the Americans, following their president who suggested the U.S.-led war on Saddam helped convince Gadhafi that he should act.
- "Carrot and stick" replied wise global security experts who know that soft power and hard power work best together.
- I propose another solution: oil. The news behind the news is that Libya is engaged in a privatization plan that centers around its oil industry. Here are the facts to think about before praising european diplomacy or american military.

In June 2003, three months after Libya started talks with the Europeans and the Americans, Gadhafi appointed Shukri Ghanem, a U.S.-educated oil specialist, as his new prime minister. Ghanem's mission is to reform the socialist economy engineered by Gadhafi himself. He doesn't want his regime to go the way of the Soviets. Like other Arab rulers, he would like one of his sons to become his successor. That won't be possible if the economy doesn't take off. The only way to maintain an authoritarian rule is to do like the Chinese : liberalize the economy, talk with the IMF and secure a seat at WTO.

Gadhafi and Ghanem both know that:
- oil and gas amount to around 90 percent of Libya's hard currency earnings;
- the economy suffered under a seven-year international embargo that was imposed in 1992 (and whose goal was to pressure Tripoli into handing over two Libyan agents accused of the 1988 Lockerbie airliner bombing).
- libyan youth represent a third of the population and unemployment is very high
- privatizing state owned assets like factories and firms is the way to go

The regime took the next logical step after Ghanem was appointed prime minister: an ambitious investment plan was launched (estimated cost USD 35 billion); open to local and foreign capital (30 to 40 %) especially in the fields of oil and industry, the plan will be extended until 2008: Ghanem said that "talking about oil industry does not mean we are privatizing tomorrow, but oil industry will be ready to receive more investments from foreign companies... this will make it imperative for the Libyans themselves gradually to buy shares in the companies listed in the Bourse."

That was the Libyan part of the story. Now, let's turn to America : let's talk real business. Let's check The BABE, the Bible of American Business Elite, in other words Forbes. The magazine ran two interesting articles early last month (November 2003). The first story is about three US firms (Marathon Oil, ConocoPhillips and Amerada Hess) that have interests in Libya :

Three U.S. oil companies are seeking an extension of their soon-to-expire Libyan oil leases, left dormant since 1986 when expanded U.S. sanctions forced them to pull out.

Paul Weeditz, a spokesman for Marathon Oil Co, makes no mistery about the situation: "We have been allowed by the U.S. government to engage in discussions with Libya on extensions to our license agreements. And those discussions are ongoing (...) We're optimistic that the Libyan government will respond favorably to an extension".

The "optimism" about the Libyan governement response is obvious if one considers the privatization plan. More surprising is the U.S. government accepting one of his companies to engage in discussions with a country still considered a rogue state. Jay Wilson, Amerada Hess spokesman, makes this clear: "While it could be an important aspect in the future growth of our company, any operations in Libya would depend on U.S. permission".

His concern is understandable. Both Amerada Hess and ConocoPhillips are part of a joint venture known as the Oasis Group, whose oil concessions in Libya are set to expire in 2005. These concessions have been frozen because of the sanctions. If nothing is done to extend the permits, the leases might be transferred to European companies whose countries have no bans on investment. That wouldn't be good for american business interests. A quick look at the numbers helps grasp what is at stake:

The Oasis Group holds 41 percent of the Waha concessions, with the Libyan government controlling the rest. ConocoPhillips and Amerada Hess share a 32.66 percent stake, while Marathon holds permits for 8.33 percent. Occidental Petroleum... is not a member of the Oasis Group, [but] holds concessions in Libya that were gained in 1966. The company's oil output in Libya reached 170,000 bpd before it left in 1986. "We're prepared to return to Libya when the US and Libyan governments allow us to. We also believe Libya would like to have us return," an Occidental spokesman said.

The second story came the week after: quoting Tarek Hassan-Beck, director of planning at Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC), Forbes once more made clear that Libya was open for business. It reported what his readers already knew - that the country needed to bring in foreign investment to develop its oil potential, much of which has been under-exploited because of U.S. and now-lifted U.N. sanctions. The interesting part being these words prononced by Hassan-Beck:"We expect in the first quarter of next year to start a big competition for upstream contracting, on an open bid approach, with a legal document that will be a lot more flexible than the previous ones". In other words, and as the title of the story states, the time to move on is NOW : "Libya's new oil licensing round due Q1 2004".

Two stories, one message: there's big business to be made in Libya, and all obstacles have been removed but one - the US government. U.S. sanctions dating from 1982 and strengthened in 1986, which ban the import of Libyan crude oil, as well as direct trade and commercial contracts with Ghadafi's regime, still remain, and continue to keep U.S. firms out of Libya. These sanctions are very hard to swallow for Big Oil, not the least because the United Nations lifted minor sanctions against Libya in September after a deal between Tripoli and families of victims of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie (Scotland). What does Washington want, for business' sake?

When the Lockerbie issue was resolved, Washington set conditions for removing its sanctions on Libya. It listed human rights, Libya's suspected role in regional conflicts and its suspected pursuit of weapons of mass destruction as causes of concern and barriers to lifting sanctions.

The US government couldn't convince anybody about Libya's human rights records : in January 2003, the United States openly voted against Libyan ambassador Najat Al-Hajjaji as head of The U.N. Human Rights Commission. People in Libya are still afraid to talk - to journalists or human rights groups - while allegations of killings and disappearances continue. As for Lybia's role in regional destabilization, it's ongoing and nobody really cares outside Africa. Weapons of mass destruction: that was the logical choice. What makes WMD such a perfect smoke screen for global oilpolitics is that you can go to war with Irak and befriend Libya without showing any smoking gun!

Oil money financed Libya's influence in Africa and will continue to do so in the near future. On the continent, it's known for a fact that Libya pays those who help Ghadafi's agenda. It's pure soft-power politics: Libya sponsored the Sahel-Saharan Communities council (CENSAD) ten years ago; this regional body helped him regain influence, first with countries around the Sahel (Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Central Africa, Sudan), then with a majority of countries in Africa when he sponsored the transformation of the Organization of Africa Unity into the African Union.

Because of US sanctions, Libya brokered a de-facto tactical alliance with France and other europeans powers. Ghadafi offered them contracts in the oil industry, to replace the Americans. Now, he knows he will need more money to maintain his influence at home and abroad. Poor countries in his area of influence are being courted by the US for their oil (Chad, Niger, Sudan). This will make the game more competitive: local dictators nobody (but Libya) cared for before are about to play a regional role thanks to their oil. The only solution for the Libyan regime is to explore and produce more oil to make more money. Thanks to WMD fiction, Ghadafi will operate freely on the continent and abroad.

The plan's goal is simple, and the prime minister Ghanem's agenda remains on schedule : stopping sanctions, liberalizing the economy, and bringing in the Americans (and their technology) to compete against European oil companies will help boost upstream exploration bidding prices, production volumes and political influence inside and outside Africa. And if it takes capitalism to (try) crush the capitalists, so be it! New prime minister, new investment policy, new moves to join WTO and sign agreements with IMF... the new libyan revolution will be globalized. Or won't be.

Saturday, December 20, 2003


Writing about security demographics in my previous post helped me focus attention on those who have the most to gain and to lose in the African oil boom: the youth population. What they will gain, we don’t know yet. But how they will lose, we already know for sure: through civil wars and crime, violence will be a key outcome of the continent’s integration to the global economy. Through the oil boom, we can see how the forces of globalisation lead to economic wars on the global level and resource wars on the local one.

How do African States in these oil-producing countries use violence and crime as a system of domination? The latest events in Nigeria open a vista on these crude realities:

Militant youths from the Ijaw and Itsekiri ethnic groups have clashed at least twice this week in creeks near the southern city of Warri, where hundreds have died this year in a battle for control of oil wealth and political power. "We now have troops at Ogbe-Ijoh, we also have troops at Bomadi," an army spokesman in Warri told Reuters. "These are very sensitive areas, the presence of troops there would definitely boost security." Thousands have been displaced and hundreds killed in the impoverished Niger delta region since March, when Ijaws launched a rebellion against the Itsekiris, the army and oil multinationals. The deployment in August of 3,000 troops has not separated the warring groups, who buy sophisticated arms from the sale of stolen crude oil.

Erase names and you have a consistent list of loaded keywords that read like a pitch for a b-movie plot: militant youths, ethnic groups, battle, control, oil wealth, political power, troops, army, sensitive areas, security, displaced (people), oil multinationals, warring groups, sophisticated arms, sale of stolen crude oil. The message is clear: the oil boom in Africa is a question of life and death. In other words, it’s a question of “governmentality” , defined as the post-colonial State’s technologies of domination. Seen from this point of view, oil-politics leads to bio-politics :

These new technologies result from the responses to that the victorious actors in the ongoing struggles around the continent give to the following questions: Who is to be protected, by whom, against what and whom, and at what price? Who is the equal of whom? To what has one a right by virtue of belonging to an ethnic group, a region, or a religion? Who has a right to take power and govern, in what circumstances, how, for how long, and at what conditions? Who has the right to the product of whose work, and for what compensation? When may one cease to obey authority, without punishment? Who must pay taxes and where do these revenues go? Who may contract debts, and in the name of whom, and for what may they be expended? To whom do a country’s riches belong? In short, who has the right to live and exist, and who has not, and why? All these questions relate to the three pillars without which no modern social order exists: definition of the prerogatives and limits of public power; codification of the rights, privileges, and inequalities tolerable in a society; and, finally, the financial underpinnings of the first two pillars. What, rather hastily, are called “transitions to democracy” are among attempts to answer these fundamental questions.

These really forward-looking questions raised by Cameroonian thinker Achille Mbembe in the 1990’s are still with us. They can help us understand what is really at stake in the African oil boom as well as guide our reading of the post-colonial State and its increasing “criminalization”. As chronicled by French political scientist Jean-François Bayart, this process is linked to the importance of public office holding, both at local and national level: getting appointed or elected at a public office opens important channels for financial gains and accumulation not only at the local or national level, but on the international one as well, through linkage with global networks of organized corporations and crime.

This peculiar form of integration to the global parallel economy explains the development of State-sponsored criminal activities in Africa: institutionalised fraud, smuggling, plundering, and the development of “economies of plunder”. These activities are initiated at two different levels. On the first level, we find players like corporate officials, employees of parastatal organizations, and government officials. Then we find activities involving non-African foreign entrepreneurs, whose local partners are African entrepreneurs and policy-makers.

These trends are clearly visible in a country like Nigeria where the federal State, despite the return to civil rule in 1999, is still perceived as corrupt, criminal and dictatorial. That perception was highlighted this week, when Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its latest report - “The Warri Crisis: Fueling Violence”. It documents the sufferings of the people living in the region where Nigeria’s wealth is pumped (The Niger Delta). During the local and federal elections in April-May 2003, violent conflicts opposed ethnic groups, but also involved the government security forces : “Among the dead were probably dozens killed by the government security forces. (...) And the perpetrators get away with these crimes without even the faintest chance of being brought to justice.” Impunity goes hand in hand with criminality, because the patrons of this violence hold public offices and decide who will be prosecuted and who will go unpunished. The interplay between public office and private gains is at the basis of that form of “govern-mentality” that Jean-François Bayart calls the “politics of the belly”, and that Nigeria epitomizes in the HRW report.

In Nigeria, individuals in government office often have virtually unchecked control over resources. Elections are therefore a focus for violence and fraud. Delta State produces 40 percent of Nigeria’s two million barrels a day of crude oil and is supposed to receive 13 percent of the revenue from production in the state—so control of government positions is a particularly large prize. In addition, the warring factions are fighting for control of the theft of crude oil, known as “illegal oil bunkering.” Illegally bunkered oil accounts for perhaps 10 percent of Nigeria’s oil production, bringing profits that are probably more than US$1 billion a year.

Both politicians and those who head the illegal bunkering rackets—sometimes the same people—employ armed militia to ensure their reelection or defend their operations. On November 24, three journalists at Lagos-based Insider magazine were arrested by the police, detained for two days and charged with sedition and defamation of character, in connection with an article alleging that the vice president of Nigeria and the national security adviser to the president were involved in large-scale theft of crude oil.

“Although the violence has both ethnic and political dimensions, it is essentially a fight over the oil money—both government revenue and the profits of stolen crude” ... “Efforts to halt the violence and end the civilian suffering that has accompanied it must therefore include steps both to improve government accountability and to end the theft of oil.”

In order to win elections, politicians tend to manipulate ethnic loyalties: ethno-politics thus becomes an essential ingredient of oil-politics and bunkering. It is at this precise moment when some of the questions raised by Achille Mbembe come to the fore: “To what has one a right by virtue of belonging to an ethnic group, a region, or a religion? Who has a right to take power and govern, in what circumstances, how, for how long, and at what conditions?” In the case of Nigeria, the violence we see today are the consequences of responses given to these questions 1991, when the Delta region was turned into a State :

According to the report, the major contending forces in Delta State are organised along ethnic lines. Three major groups claim Warri, the largest town, as their homeland: the Itsekiri, a group of just a few hundred thousands whose language is related to the much larger Yoruba to the west; the Urhobo, which consists of several million people related to the Edo-speaking people of Benin City; and the Ijaw, the largest single Delta group, whose 10 million people are spread out over several states.

The question of the ''ownership'' of Warri was already in dispute in colonial times because it was linked to office holding at both the local and state government levels.

In 1991, when Delta State was created, the Itsekiri, despite their relatively small population, were recognised as the ''true indigenes'', giving them a disproportionate advantage over the other two groups in gaining certain offices and other perquisites, such as scholarship awards and contracts with foreign oil companies.

This naturally raised the hackles of the other two groups. They have long demanded the creation of new wards and local government areas that they could then dominate, demands that began translating into violence in 1997, as militias of the different ethnic groups raided villages or neighbourhoods inhabited by others, often killing scores of residents and forcing others to flee.

The impunity of state-sponsored criminal activities and political violence in Nigeria didn’t steer much emotion from western officials in the Commonwealth or the US. While in Africa in july 2003, Bush praised President Obasanjo for his “commitment to regional peace.” US-trained Nigerian troops who play a major role in policing the oil-rich West African have no cause for concern. Time will tell us what is the level of human rights abuse the US administration is prepared to tolerate to maintain control over Nigeria.

Thursday, December 18, 2003


Energy security, a thriving topic after the 1973 oil crisis, is back on the global security agenda. But the concept took new meaning as the global security environment changed with the global economic context. The economy being global, there's only one big integrated global market. Traditional objectives of energy security such as "security of supply" at "fair price" are made obsolete. It's time to focus our attention on new issues (acceptability, accountability, corporate responsibility, transparency), new topics (demographics, environment, human security, political risk management) and "new" oil producing areas (Africa).

Due to our civilisation's reliance on rapidly depleting oil reserves and the dramatic increase in energy production in Africa, the Gulf of Guinea is emerging as a zone of strategic importance for the United States post 9/11. This shift in US foreign policy is not obvious... yet. Politicians and media networks' executives are still prisoner of their own bias towards the african continent and its people. Those who think that America can exploit african oil without a strong forward-looking engagement are mistaken. Events that took place in 2002-2003 in the Gulf of Guinea region are indicators of things to come: low intensity warfare in parts of Angola, looting and foreign workers' abductions in Nigeria, Failed coup attempts in future oil producing countries like Ivory Coast and Sao Tome, as well as political tensions and human rights abuse in Equatorial Guinea.

During the year 2000 election campaign, George Bush declared : "While Africa may be important, it doesn't fit into the [US] national strategic interests as far as I can see". Three years later, he finaly saw something that more people realized during his july 2003 african trip. It took oil and 9/11 to change his view about Africa, but he remained reluctant about sending troops in Liberia. The next coming years will probably open more eyes as the energy security dynamics on the continent and in the Middle East becomes increasingly intertwined.

A report released this week by Population Action International (PAI) gives some clues about key trends driving the security landscape in oil and gas producing countries in Africa, the Middle East and part of southern Asia. According to PAI, these three regions face the greatest risk of civil unrest in the coming decade: "High proportions of young adults, rapidly growing cities, scarcities of cropland and water, and HIV/AIDS prevalence may contribute significantly to the risk of deadly civil conflict..."

These striking findings reminded me of what Robert D. Kaplan wrote a decade ago in his seminal paper, The Coming Anarchy (1994):

"West Africa is becoming the symbol of worldwide demographic, environmental, and societal stress, in which criminal anarchy emerges as the real "strategic" danger. Disease, overpopulation, unprovoked crime, scarcity of resources, refugee migrations, the increasing erosion of nation-states and international borders, and the empowerment of private armies, security firms, and international drug cartels are now most tellingly demonstrated through a West African prism. West Africa provides an appropriate introduction to the issues, often extremely unpleasant to discuss, that will soon confront our civilization."

Despite the "rabid mathusian" overtone of Kaplan's article, we have to recognise that the civil wars that took place in Africa in the past decade (1993-2003) vindicate his views: Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire are illustrations of the dangers ahead. The irony is that these warnings didn't help much: the so-called "international community" didn't prevent nor preempt african civil conflicts. We can only hope that the current oil boom on the continent will act as a wake-up call. Unfortunatly, the implications of these findings - that sound population policies, centered around provision of reproductive health services for all who want them, can play an important role in advancing global security - are not being adressed by the Bush admnistration.

"In January 2001, the U.S. government imposed restrictions on NGOs overseas receiving international family planning assistance. The restrictions, officially called the Mexico City Policy, are also known as the Global Gag Rule by those who oppose it. Under the policy, no U.S. family planning assistance can be provided to foreign NGOs that use funding from any other source to: perform abortions in cases other than a threat to the life of the woman, rape, or incest; provide counseling and referral for abortion; or lobby to make abortion legal or more available in their country. Non-compliance will result in loss of funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)."

The road from analysis and forecasting to sound policy planning remains bumpy, to say the least. Western countries' african policy needs more coherence in a time when the link between their energy security and the stability of Africa is becoming so obvious. Those who don't want the next decade to be another lost decade for security and stabily on the continent should read the PAI report and act accordingly. The associations between population dynamics and civil conflict in the last decades of the 20th century are consistent. The authors of the study are predicting "these associations will be evident in the first decades of the 21st as well, and that in countries where demographic transition moves into its final stages, new conflicts will be less likely to emerge than in the past. That's a powerful concept for the future of global security in a frightfully uncertain world."

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?